Did That Really Just Happen?
Alaska Adventure: April 30th – May 8th
You know that excited feeling right before you set off on a big trip? I do. It’s mostly why neither myself nor my partner-in-crime went to bed before our 5:00am flight out of Boise, ID. We slept pretty much all day Sunday, and stayed awake all night because we didn’t want to miss our flight. Needless to say, we were wired on coffee and adrenaline when we got to the airport at 3:00am.
Yup, that’s me standing in front of all of our gear. Obviously we were the first in line for the Alaska Airlines attendants. If you are ever flying through Boise using Alaska Airlines, ask for Katherine. She’s amazing. Especially at 4:00am in the morning.
Quick Tip: Airline attendants are people too. If you have a stupid early flight, strongly think about bringing them coffee and remember to be genuinely nice. Trust me, it will benefit you, the attendants, and maybe even your wallet.
As we boarded the plane, we made sure to check the weather in Yakutat, AK. We would be plane-hopping from Boise-Seattle, Seattle-Juneau, Juneau-Yakutat for the next 10-ish hours.
After a quick lunch in Seattle, we boarded a larger plane than we anticipated for our hop from Juneau to Yakutat. Apparently this plane makes a loop: Seattle-Juneau-Yakutat-Cordova-Anchorage-Seattle. Good thing we had time for coffee and a few naps before landing.
Remember the rain in the above forecast picture. Yea, we’ll get back to that rain.
The Hike In
We landed in Yakutat around 11:00am, and after fuel for the cabin heater and a few other miscellaneous supplies we caught a taxi out to 9-mile bridge and the trail head.
After packing up all of our gear and supplies onto our game carts, we started at the trail-head just at the bridge around 1:00pm local time. However, we quickly learned after much heaving and pushing that these game carts weren’t the best option for the trail we were using. We would later discover the ATV trail…but not before our decision to ditch the game carts entirely.
Hiking in stuff that was meant to be pulled or pushed on a cart can be cumbersome and exhausting. To give you an idea of how cumbersome and exhausting: we left the trail-head at 1:00 pm, we didn’t make it to our cabin until 4:00 pm. The hike is a total of about 4 miles. We hiked back out to the trail-head the second day to retrieve our fuel for the cabin heater and our hike time (unencumbered by gear or bags) was exactly 1 hour. Our hike time with the fuel back to the cabin was exactly 1.5 hours. Let’s just say we had a lot of stuff.
In the end we made it to the airstrip and our home for the next 6 days.
Eagle cabin is situated on the NE end of the airstrip about four miles down the river from 9 mile bridge. The river crossing at the old Situk marks the halfway point from the trail head to the cabin.
The cabin itself is outfitted with two sets of bunk beds a small kitchen area and the fuel stove. For a one-room cabin it is situated and furnished nicely. We used the fuel stove everyday to keep our clothes on a drying-rack rotation because the Tongass National forest is a rain forest. Maybe not the tropical kind, but it is indeed a rain forest.
Hiking along the train that follows the river, the ground is a sponge. Each step is soft and mushy as the weight of your own body sinks at least a quarter of an inch into the moss. The trees are covered with thick patches of green growth that release their own oxygen and moisture into the air. I’m glad I brought my rafting splash top as a rain shell, but I never imagined I would be camouflaged into the forest. Neon green has never been a very camouflaged color except, apparently, in the rain forest.
Much of the Situk is wade-able, especially around the cabin. We quickly realized the spots on the river that would be fruitful around the cabin. The log book that we read at the end of our trip would confirm our discoveries. However, the concept of “fruitful” should clearly be defined in our situation. In our case “fruitful” means two fish were landed in each place and a few more were hooked.
Remember that box of flies at the beginning of this adventure? Well, nothing worked.
Thankfully, this world is still full of kind and generous people. This coupled with the wonders of the internet and social media, you can find these people in real life. We were able to connect with one of the people we met while doing research for the trip and he saved the day! He gave us the gear we needed and how to set them up and low and behold…we started catching fish.
Phil landed his first lake-run steelhead, and not far behind, Wes landed his own. Then, Wes hooked into a silver and it was stolen by a river otter. Yes, you read correctly. It was stolen by a river otter. More details can be found in our log book entry in the last blog post Alaska: The Reflection.
Amanda hooked into a big lake-run steelhead, and lost it. Then, it started to rain. Did I mention we were in a rain forest?
It rained. And it rained some more. It rained for a day and a half.
Remember that picture of the forecast earlier? I wish we had gotten Bob’s weather warning!
It called for about four inches of rain. It rained over twelve.
The water level rose from 300 CFS to well over 1,700. The river flooded over its banks and the airstrip became a lake. The ground absorbed as much as a sponge could soak up, then it became saturated and puddled. Everywhere we had waded the day before was under at least seven feet of water. The river crossing at the old Situk rose from three feet to eight. We would have to wait at least four days for the water level to drop to maybe make it passable. We only had exactly four days before our plane left. It would be cutting it close.
Four days before our flight the four gallons of fuel we had brought was down to one, and we had at least two days left at the cabin. Phil flagged down a guide from Yakutat Lodge and asked if he was floating down the next day. If he was, he asked if he could bring us a gallon of fuel if it was possible. He was kind enough to agree and brought us fuel the next day to get us through the night and half a day ahead of us at the cabin. When he brought us fuel he updated us on the water levels of the old Situk and our water crossing. It was still under six feet of water. He offered us a plan to get out the next day in his boat and we gladly agreed.
Looking back, we could have waited to see if the water level dropped in time for use to hike out, but by this point in the trip most of our plans had pretty much gone out the window and down the river with the rain. It was better not to chance it, and take what opportunities we had kindly and generously been given.
The last day on the river before we were picked up in the evening, we spent fishing and cleaning the cabin. By this point the few fishable places left were in front of the cabin and at the confluence of the old Situk and the main. We casted for the fish cruising the mud-line and had some nice success catching Dolly Varden. It was a good way to end our crazy adventure on the river.